The Jockeys...Super Athletes.

31.08.2017 13:07



Recently, as is the case every year, various sports associations, the media and sometimes public offices or institutions devote time to determining and awarding an outstanding individual in a sporting activity the prize for the best "Athlete" of the Year or Century, or of the World or any other denomination with which they want to "adorn" and give "prestige" to the recognition. It is rare that the great riders, winners of great prizes worldwide, are never in the first places of these lists nor they are recognized with some prize or mention that implies to surpass or to be above other athletes, "athletes" of other disciplines.


I find no other reason for this, than lack of information or ignorance on the part of the "experts" to understand how difficult is to ride a racehorse and to consider the jockey as a second-class athlete, granting all the merit and weight in terms of physical condition and talent, to the horse that in the opportunity of a triumph was lucky the jockey of mount.


Of course and especially for the jockeys, but also for those who daily see the physical and mental effort as well as the risk they run, that contempt doesn't seem fair and even causes discomfort.


But the intention of this article rather than trying to prove how wrong the "experts" are, is to make known, report and highlight what it means to be a jockey ... what physical qualities must be had? ... what skills are they needed? ... what is the extent of physical and mental effort being made while on top of a thoroughbred race horse? ... and what sacrifices are part of the lifestyle of perhaps the most risky sports profession in the world.


Jockeys are small, lightweight but extremely strong individuals who control and maneuver a mass of bone and muscle that can weigh over 1,000 pounds or over 500 kg while moving at about 40 mph (64 km / h) . The weight of these can range from 108 to 118 pounds (49 to 54 kg) and their percentage of body fat is not more than 3%. The height, although there is no specific requirement, on average can be between 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 m) and 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m).


In addition to these physical characteristics, jockeys have to be able to make decisions in fractions of a second while controlling a horse surrounded by others who can not determine or predict their reactions or behavior. Equally, jockeys must have an adrenaline threshold high enough to perform an "extreme" sport and thus be able to tolerate risk and danger.


Jon Pitts (@ jonpittshp) a neuropsychologist who has long opposed the mistaken idea that the jockey plays no role in the win and that the only thing necessary to win a race is to have a good horse, he agreed to share his experience to enrich the information presented in this article. Pitts, who for 15 years has been linked to the equestrian, dedicates his research to improving the performance of Jockeys and Riders of the highest level. (To learn more about their work, you can visit their websites and


But ... what does it mean to be in "condition" to be a high-level athlete?


Basically the physical condition involves having cardiorespiratory resistance, muscular strength, flexibility and a percentage of body fat within appropriate limits. However, when considering the physical condition related to sports activities at the highest level, experts in the field have included other parameters such as coordination, reaction time, balance, agility and power (strength X speed). As well as mental and emotional qualities that include, among other things, competitiveness, trust, courage, dedication and determination.


When a jockey drives a horse in a race, with the posture known to us today, "crouching" or "curled up" on the saddle, with knees bent and the entire weight of his body on his toes, only parts of the body that are in contact with the horse are the inner face of his foot, the one that rests on the stirrup, the inner face of his ankle and the lower part of his leg. Your body is transported and sustained thanks to the work of all the muscles of your body, mainly the legs, but also your abdomen, back, arms and even the neck.

Jockey Hall of Fame Chris McCarron on the subject said ... "We have to use all the muscles of our body when we ride a horse" ... Even the muscles of the neck ... "You wear a helmet (which Usually weighs 1.5 pounds) and you should keep your head in a position where you can see what's going on around for a minute and a half; This does not look like much but it really is. "



In addition to needing really strong legs that basically act as shock absorbers, the jockey also makes a great effort with the arm, not only to command and "stick" in the final meters of the test, also to "support" or help support the horse which uses the tension of the reins as an aid to maintain its balance which produces a constant tension of the jockey down.


Jon Pitts, who has been involved in the research carried out by the British Racing School, the British Horse Association, the Royal Veterinary College and the Injured Jockey Funds in the United Kingdom, explained the results that this research has shown with respect to Physical exertion that the jockey does in the race and with what other athletic activity can be compared.

Using portable gas analyzers to monitor the physiological demands of the jockey during exercise, the researchers simulated a 6 furlong run. The results showed an increase in the heart rate that reaches 80-95% of the maximum rate, about 160-190 beats per minute, and an oxygen consumption equivalent to the competitive effort that makes a runner in a race of 800 meters. Lactate levels in blood, a metabolite product of muscular work, reached values ​​similar to those that occur in a sprinter runner during a race of 100 or 200 meters ... undoubtedly very significant data.



The most interesting of these data and the physical condition that a jockey should have is that unlike what happens with a "track and field" runner, the jockey can repeat the same effort 6 or 7 times during a race day and throughout a season that unlike other sports takes place week after week throughout the year.


With respect to heart rate, some research has shown that thirty minutes between one race and another is sometimes not enough time for the heart rate to return to resting levels, especially after a triumph. In such a way that the jockey will mount his next horse with a heart rate that is still well above the rest levels, with the physical effort that will make in the race this will rise again to levels as high as 200 beats per minute.


These works on heart rate variations in jockeys during a race day are led by John O'Reilly, a researcher who studies sports physiology.


For O'Reilly the results of this work clearly demonstrate that the athletic effort of a jockey is from the aerobic point of view as demanding as that of any other athlete and textually explains ... "It is a high intensity work that requires a high recovery intensity ... Whenever the heart rate returns to normal rest levels, everything is fine ... However if the jockey has to ride another horse with his still high heart rate, he may be too tired to think and make the right decisions in fractions of a second.


"Pitts on the other hand has put a lot of interest in the jockey-horse connection. According to him, jockeys may be more focused on the horse than on themselves ..."When you focus on a specific task, perception and judgment can be compromised, especially if competition anxiety is present" .



In such a way that the mental capacity of a jockey in race is also highly demanded and therefore it is not only his physical conditioning, it is also his mental state that will be required race after race.


My intention in principle was to extend myself in other characteristics of a jockey as well as in the sacrifices involved in a profession where the physical weight is monitored daily and the consequences this has on the lifestyle of the same. However the topic is extensive and it would be impossible to fully develop it in a single article so we may have to do a second part on the subject.


However, very briefly, no one can doubt how important it is to the correct performance of a racehorse, the balance and coordination of the jockey, his flexibility as well as a series of moral qualities that include courage, competitiveness, determination and dedication. Similarly, jockeys are the only athletes among all sports activities, who deprive themselves of food and fluids before and during competition by performing physical exertion many times with significant levels of dehydration and low levels of basic nutrients.


The next time we see a jockey coming to the paddock to join his driven, always active and with good attitude, we should have in our mind that several of them have not tasted bite nor restored their fluids for long hours and many suffer from product pains of the effort to practice perhaps the most demanding and dangerous athletic activity in the world.


Enrique Castillo



All images were taken borrowed from internet all credit is absolutely of its owners.